Ora Records, Quebec, Canada - 2CD

      Montreal, if you have not visited, is an incomparably beautiful city that is, I'm told, the most European in North America.  Knockout weather in the summer, vibrant neighborhoods, friendly residents, and some very cool festivals throughout the year.  What, as my Jewish uncle used to say, is not to like?  And given that Jazz pianist Paul Bley and very-far-out rock band Miriodor are both fromup that way,  there's some great art and music being made as well.  

Another experimental outfit from those parts are [iks], who I would think will be on the bill of the Victoriaville experimental music festival (held each May in or near Quebec City), if they've not already done.     [iks] are a quintet of smart young musicians who use some dated and some up-to-the-minute methods to market themselves and produce their art.  When Jazz Now head honcho Haybert Houston sent me this CD (if it was not the lovely and mysterious Stella Cheung Houston and Patricia) I was totally flummoxed as to "who were these people?" ; it's due to the computer-generated artwork in which one must remove a series of 5 clear plastic liner cardswith personnel listings, song titles, etc., which all together when viewed in their place in the CD cover make up the name of the band in a white/black array.  I didn't realize at first how to get the cards out!  But confusing critics is easy, and well I recall picking up LPs in my misspent youth with absolutely no identifying marks on them at all; so I'm used to that.  The problem is keeping the critic awake through the 126 minutes of these two CDs.  Not for these guys, either.  I am not enamored of this entire album, but there are ideas aplenty, some of them new, some reimagined, some oddly malformed (but that may have been what they had in mind). And if you are like me and must be exposed to something new as often as possible thanks to your attention span having long ago been destroyed by whatever means (mine was Pink Floyd, but let's not dwell), [iks] are worth a serious listen.  

I could imagine a crit saying that [iks] do not have a cogent and cohesive style of their own: the 2 CDs veer maniacally from the free-blasting sturm und clang of the opening "Desert Flowers" (Sean Craig's tenor sax recalling Charles Gayle in its rawness) to a Gershwin-like exquisitude ("Maxime(Mon Juge}" that slowly morphs over 7:18 to a more Satie-esque medicine-dropped sort of approach.  And then on from there, you may be sure.  But before we go on, bravo to pianist Nicolas Boucher for making the process seamless.  Craig's sax opens into the piece flowerlike along with Sylvain Pohu's calm electric guitar, Stefan Schneider's literate cymbals and Pierre Alexandre Tremblay's restrained electric bass.  Beautifully done.  Not a whole lot of Jazz signifiers here other than the instrumentation, frankly.  This lot have, as song #3 on CD1 shows, far more interest in modern classical and musique concrete ("La Boeuf et la Grenouille")... that is, until Tremblay adds a classic walking bass pattern and some instruments fall in with him while others ignore him entirely.  Schneider cuts Tremblay off later, with diverting results.  A sense of humor always helps when you're trying something different.  Some bits here ("Strato") have the Jazz attack but a loose-limbed approach to rhythm and scoring that pegs them more to the 'deconstruction' side of things, maybe akin to Roscoe Mitchell, while CD1's "Hitchcock" and large stretches of CD2 feature cut-ups, electronically reprocessed sounds and gnarled, grinding, feedbacked guitar and bass settings reminiscent of '73-'74 - era Miles Davis acid-funk.  Quite often it works and you find yourself in an unfamiliar space; but even when it doesn't, there's no pointless noodling that clearly shows the band have no idea what they're about.  No, a sense of direction is [iks]' best suit, and what you may require most of is the necessary patience to let them get you up into orbit.

Other standout tracks are "Deux Vies (Une Rencontre)," recalling some of the brain-teasing impressionism the John Abercrombie Quartet used to do. Pohu is spot on here, leading the band through a serpentine chord structure in which instruments drop in and out with a deliciously subtle logic; and there's the ring-modulated electric piano winking through the improvised fields of "Glas Synthetique"; and the closing "Bolero (Vague)," another instance in which (like "Maxime") more is implied than is actually performed.  A certain blues feel colors the edges.  Very nice coloration, no pun intended.    

No, you won't hear anything like this elsewhere. So if you require a musical shot in the arm that will remind you, as Artaud once put it, that whichever way you turn you haven't even started thinking, [iks] come well recommended.

by Kenneth Egbert

Jazz Now Interactive July 2004 Vol 14 No. 3 - Table of Contents